France offering freedom to America

<em>France offering freedom to America</em>

France offering freedom to America

© RMN - Grand Palais (Château de Blérancourt) / Daniel Arnaudet

Publication date: September 2014

Historical context

Jean Suau is a somewhat forgotten history painter, born in 1755 and died in 1841. Jean Suau was successively member and professor of the Academy of painting, sculpture and architecture of Toulouse, professor at the Special School of Fine Arts from this same city, professor at the Central School of Haute-Garonne and directed the classes of the antique, the living model and artistic anatomy.

He had as a pupil Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780-1867) who, like his own son, then attended the famous Parisian workshop of Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825).

In 1784, the painter won the competition of the Royal Academy of Toulouse with painting France offering freedom to America. Between 1779 and 1801, there are more than thirty works (sculptures, engravings, paintings) exhibited at the Salons in Paris, dealing directly with American events.

Image Analysis

In the center of the painting, France is depicted wearing a breastplate and a blue coat adorned with golden lilies. She holds Liberty by the hand, which she offers to America. The latter, represented by an Indian wearing a feathered headdress, hastens to receive her on his boat. Liberty holds in her right hand the scepter, symbol of sovereignty, and in her left hand the Phrygian cap, icon of liberty.

France is followed by the allegories of Victory, winged and holding a laurel wreath, of Peace, kneeling and wearing a wreath of flowers, of Abundance, holding a bouquet of flowers and ears of wheat, and of Commerce, showing a map and a compass. Above them, in a clearing cloudy sky, Fame announces the event with its trumpet.

On the left of the table, various nations are busy piling and moving goods, attesting to resurgent commercial and economic prosperity.

To the far right of the painting is Hercules, who chases the English leopard with his club with the help of the French rooster, pricking and threatening.

In the distance, the sea opens onto a sunny horizon. The entire composition is bathed in soft colors, enhanced by a few bright and vibrant lines.


In the aftermath of the Seven Years' War (1756-1763), England's fiscal policy unleashed a wave of protest in its thirteen American colonies that would soon turn, in the face of British intransigence, into a veritable revolution. The rupture was finally consummated on July 4, 1776, with the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America, which marked the birth of a new independent Republic. France, thanks to the intervention of Benjamin Franklin and the determination of the Marquis de La Fayette, decided in 1778 to intervene with the American insurgents. Thanks to this support and many other factors, the war ended in 1783 with the Treaty of Paris, which enshrined the English defeat and the official recognition of the United States of America.

It follows, throughout the last third of the XVIIIe century, a wave of allegorical works attesting to the interest of French public opinion in American events. Jean Suau's painting is one of them. Staging French military and financial aid to American insurgents during the American War of Independence (1776-1783) using classic allegorical vocabulary (Liberty, France, Hercules, the French rooster, the English leopard …), It perfectly sums up the interests and motives behind the French intervention: revenge against England, anti-English sentiment, aspirations to reclaim maritime trade, glory of France in its alliances. These elements explain the crowning of the work by the Royal Academy of Toulouse.

Finally, it should be noted that the identity of the young American Republic is represented by an Indian, while most images of the period prefer to use its female counterpart, the figure of the wild and indomitable Indian. Here, probably in order to give the subject a solemn character, the artist has chosen an Indian with white skin, whose headdress only indicates national identity.

  • allegory
  • Native Americans
  • United States
  • Freedom
  • La Fayette (Marquis of)
  • american war of independence
  • Seven Years' War (1756-1763)


COLLECTIVE, Enlightenment America: literary part, conference proceedings (Brest, 1976), Geneva, Droz, coll. "History of ideas and literary criticism" (no 168), 1977.DUPRAT Annie, "From the Indian to the eagle: identity, unity, patriotism and universalism in American iconography (1773-1802)", in BÉLISSA Marc , COTTRET Bernard, Cosmopolitanism, patriotism: Europe and the Americas (1773-1802), proceedings of the study day (Nanterre, 2005), Rennes, Les Perséides, coll. "Le Monde atlantique", 2005.GUILLIN Marjorie, "" The annihilation of the arts in the provinces? " The Royal Academy of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture of Toulouse in the 18th Century (1751-1793) ", doctoral thesis in art history, Toulouse, University Toulouse II - Le Mirail, 2013.

To cite this article

Pascal DUPUY, " France offering freedom to America »

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